People advised to wear face masks and meet outdoors in winter Covid plan

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People in England are being advised to wear face masks in crowded places and meet outdoors where possible, the prime minister has said, as he set out the government's plan to tackle coronavirus throughout the winter.

Boris Johnson, speaking at a Downing Street press conference, said advice to work from home could return if the Covid-19 situation dictates, and face masks could be enforced through law if necessary.

He added that vaccine passports could be introduced for entry to large events, however he said Covid certification is not currently needed.

The government has also refused to rule out any further lockdowns but said the tool would be kept only as a reserve, should the other measures not succeed in keeping down coronavirus infections.

Main points from the government's winter plan:

Plan B, if the Covid situation severely worsens:

  • Compulsory mask wearing could be enforced

  • Work from home advice could return

  • Vaccine passports could be used for entry to large indoor evens

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Booster vaccines for the vulnerable and Covid jabs for all over-12s form the central part of the plan, with the government also aiming to carry out the UK's largest ever flu jab campaign.

Back up options, which the government is calling it's plan B, will only be used if the coronavirus situation deteriorates severely.

Downing Street said there was no metric for triggering so-called "Plan B" measures from the winter coronavirus plan, instead saying ministers would "take a holistic approach and consider a range of data".

But Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, told the Downing Street press conference that the emergence of a new variant that can escape the vaccine would be a cause for concern.

Watch Boris Johnson's winter Covid update in full:

Asked what could trigger plan B, he said: "New variants are one of the things we need to look seriously at... the worry would be one that can escape from the vaccination."

He added: "We have not faced a winter with the Delta variant, so it is possible that the combination of winter events plus the Delta variant which is highly transmissible, could lead to a situation where on the basis of the data, ministers decided that they wanted to trigger some or all of the plan B."

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: "The latest statistics from the ONS show that almost 99% of Covid-19 deaths in the first half of this year were people who had not received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

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"This shows the importance of our vaccination programme."

The health secretary also outlined a number of changes people can make to their daily routines, telling MPs: "Meeting outdoors where possible or, if you need to be indoors, trying to let in fresh air."

With Conservative benches in the Commons chamber littered with maskless MPs, Mr Javid suggested "wearing a face mask in crowded, enclosed spaces where you can come into contact with people that you don't normally meet".

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Mr Javid said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps would provide further updates on international travel ahead of the formal review point on October 1.

He added that it is "highly likely" frontline NHS staff and those in wider social care settings will need to have Covid-19 and flu vaccinations in order to be deployed.

Free Covid tests will continue to be available throughout the winter, however the health secretary said no final decision has been taken on whether schoolchildren without Covid-19 symptoms will be required to undergo regular testing beyond September.

It follows advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that all over-50s should be offered a third jab – starting with the over-70s and the most vulnerable.

One shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be administered at least six months after the second dose amid concerns the protection it gives to older people fades over time.

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The prime minister remains determined to avoid another lockdown in England over the winter, with Downing Street making clear it would only be considered as a “last resort”.

Instead, ministers will focus on vaccines as the “first line of defence” supported by testing, public health advice and a new variant surveillance system.

Officials argue deaths and hospital admissions have remained relatively stable over the past month as evidence suggests the vaccines have been highly effective in preventing serious illness.

The government also announced it is repealing a swathe of powers taken through the Coronavirus Act which are no longer considered necessary.

They include measures to close down sectors of the economy, apply restrictions to events and gatherings and powers to detain infectious people.

Some measures will be retained – including sick pay from day one for people who are self-isolating, any powers to direct schools to remain open if they close against government guidance, and helping the NHS to get the emergency resource it needs.

It will remain a legal requirement for people to self-isolate if they test positive for the disease.